I’m desperate — we all are — for any reason to be hopeful. Podcasting may be that reason.
Let me explain:
Societies change when technology changes. Technology sets the terms by which we engage. Radically changing technology radically changes the terms by which we engage. When that change happens, we have to learn again how to connect. We have to learn to ignore the bad, and feed the good. That learning takes time. For much of that time, the future seems hopeless. But if the past is a predictor of the future, eventually, we get it right.
The Internet is our latest technology-changing-society event. It blew up the editor. It fragmented the audience. Its ad-driven nature encouraged anything that would get people to engage. Truth was not a constraint on that encouraging. Indeed, pretty early on, the marketers realized that truth was a downer, and that fake sold faster than fact.
If we can’t escape that present, we’re doomed. If we can’t learn to rise above the crazy or the purely partisan, then we can’t act as citizens in a democracy. This is a climate crisis for the climate of self-government. We need to find a way out.
Podcasting will be a critical part of that way out. For the architecture of the podcast is the precise antidote for the flaws of the present. It is deep where now is shallow. It is insulated from ads where now is completely vulnerable. It is a chance for thinking and reflection; it has an attention span an order of magnitude greater than the Tweet. It is an opportunity for serious (and playful) engagement. It is healthy eating for a brain-scape that now gorges on fast food.
This is the link to the completely convincing Slow Democracy Movement (Susan Clark and Woden Teachout have one great take on it). It turns out, certain things humans can only do well if they do it slowly. Eating, cooking, reflecting, thinking, loving: These are the things we need to pace and pause. Culture needs that slowness and reflection. Politics needs it especially. We will only find a way back from the abyss that is our present moment if we think strategically about how to engineer into our souls a way of thinking that is more than the grunt.
Podcasts could give us that. Sam Seder, Joe Rogan, Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, Bryan Callen and Hunter Maats, Phoebe Judge, The Pollsters — we all have our list. We should all expand our lists. We should all spread the idea that every healthy mind spends time every week in slow thinking.
If 2016 was the Twitter election — fast food, empty calorie content driving blood pressure but little thinking — then 2020 must be the podcast election — nutrient-rich, from every political perspective. Not sound bites driven by algorithms, but reflective and engaged humans doing what humans still do best: thinking with empathy about ideals that could make us better — as humans, not ad-generating machines.
There is hope here. We need to feed it.